Sunday, October 5, 2008

Week 1 update Part 1: Yaroslavl and the Hotel Kotorosl

What a whirlwind of a first week. I have so much that I want to write and update you all on; the city of Yaroslavl, the hotel, the program, the kids we work with and everything else I’ve been doing. The internet is inconveniently located only on the first floor, but I’ve been doing my best to journal on my laptop everyday. I thought I’d spare you all the boring play-by-play of my days here. It is hard to decide though what to include and what not to since I find everything here so different and exciting!


Let’s start with the city of Yaroslavl (pronounced Yah-row-slah-vuhl). It’s a small city of around 670,000 people and it is beautiful. The colors of fall are abundant here with the leaves on the trees all colored different shades of red, orange and yellow. The Soviet-era apartment buildings located around our hotel, the Hotel Kotorosl, are all really run-down and graffitied. There is a lot of graffiti on buildings throughout the city, surprising because the city is very safe. The hotel is also located right next to a long road of home improvement stores.

We are a 15 minute walk, or 5 minute, approx 40 cent (10 rubles) tram ride from the city center, downtown. There are over 50 churches in the city, most of them with colorful onion domes and spires. There are a wealth of centuries-old churches, museums, monuments, memorials, homes, a monastery and a massive cathedral that is set to be ready for the city’s millennial anniversary. Construction is also ongoing for what will one day, by the looks of the designs, be a beautiful planetarium.

Two memorials stick out when thinking about the city. In one park there is a massive black and gold pillar for some reason dedicated to the state university in Yaroslavl. And in another park is a beautiful memorial dedicated to the Great Patriotic War (World War II). There are two stones both about 10 feet high facing each other. On the right there is the face of a soldier cut into the stone and the left has a woman who helped the war effort from home, a la the American, Rosie the Rooter. Between the two is an eternal flame, which is where all local marrying couples take their picture on their wedding day.

There is a statue in the city center honoring the city’s founder, Yaroslavl the Wise. Legend has it that the city was founded in 1010 at the behest of the village’s residents after Yaroslavl killed a bear at the riverbank where the Volga and Kotorosl Rivers meet. So of course the city’s seal is the silhouette of a bear carrying an axe over its shoulder.

There are a ton of stray dogs and cats in the city. We saw one cute cat walking alone in the supermarket and another dog narrowly miss being hit by a car. None of the locals of course seem to think this out of the ordinary.

The Hotel Kotorosl and Russian Food

Mayonnaise, sour cream and dill are staple of pretty much every dish. Not sure why exactly, and not all that pleasing considering I like none of the three, but now that I know how to saw no sour cream “nie nada svitana” I feel a little bit better about my chances.

The hotel is nice. The room has gotten noticeably warmer since my last post, so that’s good. There is still a booming woman’s voice every night, all night, that directs the cargo trains to contend with. CCS programs in other countries, like South Africa, have their own properties that serve as Home-Bases, but in Russia a property has been harder to come by. We share a bathroom and shower with one other volunteer who lives next door to Jaime and I. CCS has two offices on the first floor, which is also where the hotel’s restaurant is located.

Meals from the hotel are included with our program fee. Jaime and I decided that we consider breakfast to be a roll with butter or jam and a fruit yogurt. Those two are our staples. On the rare occasions we like what they are serving that day, like cheese blintzes, it’s a big plus. Most of the time, like the days with the cheesy egg-y soufflĂ© and the hot dogs this morning, there is no plus.

Lunch is a salad, soup and a main entrée. Dinner has no soup, but does come with dessert. Dinners have included potato balls with mushroom inside, dim sum dumplings with sour cream, rice with vegetables and other dishes. One lunch lowlight was the beef stroganoff which I wrote off as stale meat and continued eating until I was informed it was liver.

The menu is set, so we just get to sit and eat, and don’t worry about struggling with ordering. We get along fine. It’s an interesting balance between trying to experience more of the culture through its food and trying to enjoy your meal especially for someone as picky as me.

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